🎥 The Ladykillers – 1955

The Story …

Mrs Wilberforce is a sweet and eccentric old widow who lives alone with her raucous parrots in a gradually subsiding lopsided house, built over the entrance to a railway tunnel in Kings Cross, London.

With nothing to occupy her time and an active imagination, she is a frequent visitor to the local police station where she reports fanciful suspicions regarding neighbourhood activities. The officers there humour her but give her reports no credence whatsoever.

She is approached by an archly sinister character, “Professor” Marcus, who wants to rent rooms in her house. She is not aware that he has assembled a gang of hardened criminals for a sophisticated security van robbery at London King’s Cross railway station: the gentlemanly and easily fooled con-man Major Claude Courtney; the comedic Cockney spiv Harry Robinson; the slow-witted and punch drunk ex-boxer ‘One-Round’ Lawson; and the murderous, cruel and vicious continental gangster Louis Harvey …

As a cover, the “Professor” convinces the naive Mrs. Wilberforce that the group is an amateur string quintet using the rooms for rehearsal space.

To maintain the deception, the gang members carry musical instruments and play recordings of Boccherini’s Minuet (3rd movement) from String Quintet in E, Op. 11 No. 5 and Haydn’s Serenade for Strings Op. 3 No. 5 (the “Serenade” was actually composed by Roman Hoffstetter) during their planning sessions.

As part of the heist, “Mrs. W” is deceived into retrieving the disguised money from the railway station herself. This she successfully manages to do, but not without serious complications owing to her tendency to righteous meddling. As the gang departs her house with the loot, ‘One-Round’ accidentally gets his cello case full of banknotes trapped in the front door.

As he pulls the case free, banknotes spill forth while Mrs. Wilberforce looks on. After some conversation and the tea-party of her best friends and the thieves, finally, smelling a rat, she informs Marcus that she is going to the police.

Stalling, the gangsters half convince Mrs. W that she will surely be considered an accomplice for holding the cash. In any case, they assert, it is a victimless crime as insurance will cover all the losses and the police will probably not even accept the money back. She wavers, but when she rallies, the criminals finally decide they must kill her.

No one wants to do it, so they draw lots using matchsticks. The Major loses but tries to make a run for it with the cash. The criminals cross, double-cross while Mrs Wilberforce dozes; Eventually they manage to kill one another in rapid succession.

The Major falls off the roof of the house after being chased by Louis; Harry is killed by One-Round who, after having had a change of heart about the killing of Mrs. W, wrongly thinks that Harry has killed her; One-Round tries to shoot Louis and Marcus when he overhears a plan to double-cross him, but leaves the gun’s safety catch on and is himself killed by Louis; Marcus kills Louis by dislodging his ladder under the tunnel behind the house, causing Louis to fall into a passing railway wagon.

Before falling into the carriage, Louis fires a last shot at Marcus which nearly hits him. Within moments, Marcus himself is struck on the head by a changing railway signal, and his body drops into another wagon. All the other bodies have been dumped into railway wagons passing behind the house and are now far away.

Mrs. Wilberforce is now left alone with the plunder. She goes to the police to return it, but they do not believe her story.

They humour her, telling her to keep the money but she’s puzzled but finally relents and returns home.

Along the way, she leaves a banknote of large denomination with a startled starving artist …

Credits :

  • Directed by Alexander Mackendrick
  • Written by William Rose
  • Produced by Michael Balcon
  • Cinematography : Otto Heller
  • Edited by Jack Harris
  • Music by Tristram Cary
  • Production Company : Ealing Studios
  • Distributed by The Rank Organisation
  • Release Date : 8 December 1955

Cast :

  • Alec Guinness as Professor Marcus
  • Cecil Parker as Major Claude Courtney
  • Herbert Lom as Louis Harvey
  • Peter Sellers as Harry Robinson
  • Danny Green as ‘One-Round’ Lawson
  • Jack Warner as the Superintendent
  • Katie Johnson as Mrs Louisa Wilberforce
  • Philip Stainton as the Station Sergeant
  • Frankie Howerd as the barrow boy
  • Kenneth Connor as the taxi driver
  • Lucy Griffiths as Miss Pringle
  • Harold Goodwin as the parcels clerk
  • Stratford Johns as a security guard

Film Information Source :


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